Thursday, June 22, 2017

State Fair (1945)

Director: Walter Lang


Reaching back into the well of previously successful pictures Fox delivers a Technicolor remake of their 1933 Will Rogers picture State Fair. On top of its glorious color is the fact that the remake is a musical, and has the claim as the only production written originally for the screen by the famed musical duo Rodgers and Hammerstein. Eventually this 1945 motion picture musical would be adapted for the stage, this musically packed feature takes audiences to the innocent carefree days of youth and romance at an early 20th century destination that is the state fair.

State Fair is Rogers and Hammerstein musical about an Iowa family’s experiences at the state fair, focusing primarily on the youths discovering new found loves wrapped in the romance that is the experience of the fair. Our tale follows the Frake family as they prepare for the culminating event of the year, the state fair. While Father, Abel (Charles Winninger), and Mother, Melissa (Fay Bainter), are preoccupied with their respective competitions of best pig and best pickles and mincemeat, their young adult children, Margy (Jeanne Crain) and Wayne (Dick Haymes) are discovering romance at the fairgrounds. Wayne becomes infatuated with an intelligent and beautiful singer, Emily (Vivian Blaine) while roaming the carnival, but finds it difficult to compete with what he thinks is higher musical class with which she socializes in. Our main story, although, lies with Margy who finds an exciting new love interest in Pat (Dana Andrews), a reporter for a Des Moines newspaper covering his experience at the fair. The drama of the picture revolves around the heartbreak of the Wayne and Margy that their hopeful significant others are offered better things in bigger cities leaving Wayne and Margy behind only to have the lovers reunited, ultimately with Margy and Pat arranged to wed.
Jeanne Crain and Dana Andrews

The picture is a an innocent, light-hearted fun tale that captures the sentiment of what fairs meant to townspeople of smaller communities in the early to mid-20th century. The rich colors and emotional tones evoke the carefree days of youth and the fluttering joys of young love. The music of Rogers and Hammerstein accentuates the ideals of a simpler age when one’s worries were modestly whether their bravery could conquer the carnival’s rollercoaster or if they could dance with that cute someone.

Directed by Fox’s great in house musical filmmaker Walter Lang, the film stars 20 year-old Jeanne Crain, a former beauty queen who was a rising musical starlet at Fox. The studio originally was not aware of Lang’s own vocal talents and had her vocals dubbed, but eventually she would be nurtured as a singing star. Her love interest in the picture was portrayed by Dana Andrews, who was 16 years her senior, and best known for his westerns and detective pictures. The second love story feature former stunt man turned singer/actor Dick Haymes and former touring singer Vivian Blaine as musically linked couple and his fear that he may not fit into her crowd. To flesh out the story the movie is filled with a wonderfully character driven supporting cast including the likes of Charles Winninger and Fay Bainter as the father and mother, as well as appearances by Donald Meek and an appearance of a still new to the screen Harry Morgan.

Vivian Blaine and Dick Haymes
It feels as if State Fair is the 20th Century Fox answer for MGM’s earlier musical, and wildly popular Meet Me in St. Louis. It is not to claim that State Fair was produced as a direct result of Meet Me in St. Louis, but it does field it great deal of similarities. Both are Technicolor musicals released only months apart from each other and surround the idea of the families and their admiration of a fair. However Meet Me in St. Louis’ plot does not take place at the fair, rather it concludes with the grand event. It seems all too convenient that these pictures were produced at the same time. This usually lends to studios watching at what their competitors may have been working on at the time and feeding on their successes. However, it all could be a massive coincidence.

The film released to mixed to favorable reviews. For the most part audiences liked it, but critics could not help but feel the film provided no real substance, seeing it as just major studio fluff. It was fluff. It was enjoyable for many as well. For those that wished to relive the innocent days of carefree youth accentuated with the music penned by Rogers and Hammerstein, this was the film for them.

Fay Bainter and Charles Winninger
State Fair be the only production originally intended for motion pictures by the famed musical writing partners Richard Rogers and Oscar Hammerstein II. The two had and would continue to write for many wildly successful plays that would be adapted to the screen, but this marked the only time their work was originally meant for the screen. It would result in an Academy Award for the duo or their original song “It Might as Well Be Spring” and eventually the musical would transition to the stage in 1969.

State Fair is light and colorful, and at times too clean. Depending on the palate of the viewer it could be a film with charming virtues or musical all too sweet that it could make one want to call for an appointment with their dentist. The 1933 original had the benefit of being ever so slightly more risqué with its Pre-Code story hinting at physical relations amongst it lovers, however this dolled-up musical version was made in a time when Americans were being fed innocence for its mass appeal during the final days of World War II. In the end the picture is a fine film worth a watch as it does capture a hint of those days long gone with the romance of place and love that only nostalgia can capture.

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